Social enterprise was once an unknown concept in Greece. But in response to the economic crisis that has steadily pushed hundreds of thousands of people dangerously close to or below the poverty line, grassroots solutions have flourished.
Our summit co-host Shedia is just one inspiring example. At the INSP Global Street Paper Summit today, its fellow social enterprises Boroume, Myrtillo Cafe and Wise Greece told our international delegates how their unique and innovative approaches are making a difference in Athens.
All three have worked closely with the Greek street paper in the past to offer free meals to Shedia vendors.
Boroume puts restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries with unsold food in touch with their local welfare charities, such as soup kitchens, to reduce waste and feed hungry people in one go.
Founding member Alexander Theodoridis praised the street paper movement:
“I have been a supporter of street papers like Shedia from day one, so I needed no convincing to be here today. We fight for the same cause in the new wave of civil society.”
Since 2012, the social enterprise has worked with a large network of food donors, from large chains to weekly farmer’s markets which donate leftovers on a daily basis.
Boroume, meaning “We can”, connects these donors with more than 150 recipient organisations in Athens using an online platform, and also arranges the delivery of the food.
Simplifying the process of redistributing leftover food has had a big impact. In the past four years, Boroume has coordinated the donation of more than 6.5 million food portions and helps deliver 20,000 meals daily to those who need it most – including many Shedia vendors.
The donations go to people supported by homeless shelters, soup kitchens, municipal social services and organisations supporting children and people with mental and physical disabilities. In some cases the food donations cover up to 100% of a beneficiary’s nutritional needs.
“Nobody wants to throw food away but it can be difficult to know where the need it is and also most people do not want to invest the time to bring this food to a suitable welfare organisation,” said Theodoris.
“We do what a typical food bank does (and much more since we are able to save any kind of food) with a fraction of the cost as we coordinate the donation pick-up at the donor’s place by the recipient organisation directly. This is also the easiest way for a food donor to give and means they are more willing to do so on a regular basis.”
The colourful Myrtillo Café is a thriving social enterprise cooperative that offers employment opportunities to young vulnerable people while bringing the local community together over coffee, cakes, music and art.
Launched in early 2013, the cafe/art venue employs a staff of 19 – 40% of whom are from vulnerable social groups. Eleven are salaried employees and the rest are currently undergoing training and internships.
Trust and mutual respect are of key importance to the cafe, says founder Georgia Raffan, who was inspired by a similar social enterprise in Edinburgh, Scotland called The Engine Shed.
Her young staff are given key responsibilities for the running of the business, such as buying stock, cashing up, booking entertainment, marketing and even redecorating.
“A wrong action is better than an infallible theory. We should invest in the dynamics of our young talented people who are tired of hearing enlightened theories, while remaining inactive, without a life and without a job to do,” said Raffan.
She added that while social enterprises in Greece have become key pillars of the economy, they need support to continue doing so.
“Myrtillo has survived up to now. It has traversed a long distance as a “shot across the infinite depth of the ocean”, as the Greek poet Kalvos put it, but you cannot conquer the ocean depths on your own,” said Raffan.
“It is time for governmental and non-governmental agencies to come down from the stands and into the playing field. In a Greece that is crisis-torn, a Greece that lives on the verge of insanity, yet a Greece that resists and insists, the strength of social co-operative business enterprises is an antidote to suffering; a cure for long-term afflictions.
“If our young people, whether vulnerable or not, are injecting their enterprise, their labour, what then should the state be doing?”
Wise Greece has a double mission: it sells top quality Greek products at home and abroad, then uses the profits to feed homeless people and those on the verge of poverty.
It’s successful model helps small Greek producers to grow, to sell and export their products, while at the same time using profits from the sales to buy food for people in need.
“Our idea was how can we strengthen the Greek economy, by helping its major part –the small Greek production – as well as to maintain a constant flow of food to organisations and people in need? This is how Wise Greece was born,” explained founder Melina Taprantzi.
Wise Greece help provide food for the homeless, the elderly, families and children in need, as well as many refugees who have arrived in Athens in recent years. It has also hosted special lunches for Shedia vendors.
Customers have embraced Wise Greece’s ethos. “Greek consumers are increasingly aware that by buying Wise products they help the economy of the country, while providing a proper meal to people in need,” added Taprantzi.
“Consumers abroad, love the Greek food and understand that they can help someone just by buying a product that tastes good, comes at a fair price and contains no preservatives or artificial colours.”
After almost three years, Wise Greece has helped 100 Greek producers sell 700 different product lines, many of which are exported to eight different countries.
While social enterprises have become vital in Greece, their survival is not set in stone.
Taprantzi’s secret to success is “a lot of work! It may sound cliché, but when you are a Social Enterprise you can only speak through your results. This is why the first years are so difficult, because you don’t have enough results to demonstrate, so everybody is sceptical.”
She continued: “Simultaneously, we have many people that support Wise Greece, which are the best ambassadors, and we make sure to communicate what we do, so we will get more supporters!
“The secret is to work a lot, to have passion for the purpose that you serve and to be open to partnerships.”